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Region Breakdown: Syracuse

Bracket may be stacked, but UNC too tough to topple

Posted: Monday March 14, 2005 11:55AM; Updated: Monday March 14, 2005 2:00PM
Raymond Felton
Expect Raymond Felton and the Tar Heels to be cutting down the nets in the Carrier Dome.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
NCAA Tournament

By Stewart Mandel, SI.com

Underrated: Bucknell. Buck-who? The Bison aren't your average 14-seed. They've beaten Pittsburgh and St. Joe's, both on the road, took Iowa State to the wire in Ames and knocked off Patriot League regular-season champ Holy Cross in the Crusaders' gym to earn the automatic berth.

Overrated: Minnesota. The Gophers ended up with a respectable enough record to merit a No. 8 seed, but they didn't beat anyone of note outside of the Big Ten and lost to Florida State and Northwestern on their own court.

Bracket Buster: New Mexico. The Lobos' soft schedule didn't afford many opportunities to gauge them, but they have an All-America caliber player in Danny Granger and they were the only Mountain West team to beat Utah, which they did twice.

Home Cooking: North Carolina will play close to home in Charlotte, but half of the crowd will be Duke fans rooting against the Tar Heels. The true home-court advantage may go to UConn. The Huskies' loyal horde will make the 45-minute drive to Worcester "en Mass."

Best Player You've Never Heard Of: Ohio's Leon Williams. The freshman big man may be the new "Shaq of the MAC" (former Bobcats star Gary Trent's old nickname). The Baltimore native notched 29 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks in his team's conference-title victory over Buffalo.

Best Matchup: Charlotte-N.C. State. It would give Charlotte fans immense pleasure to knock off one of their state's "Big Four" in tourney play. Though they ended the season on a three-game losing streak, the 49ers -- with stars Curtis Withers, Eddie Basden and Brendan Plavich -- will be a tough out. But Julius Hodge and the Wolfpack are riding high following their ACC tourney win over Wake Forest.

The Pick: North Carolina. No team in the country can match UNC's mix of talent, depth and experience, and it can run most opponents off the floor. The Tar Heels' biggest enemy is often themselves, especially enigmatic junior Rashad McCants. They face a potentially tough Sweet 16 game against Villanova or Florida, but neither UConn nor Kansas should touch them in the Elite Eight.